Ianni, 1996 – 2009


Thirteen years ago, we brought home to our new house a small ball of white fluff with floppy, tawny ears and dark, twinkling eyes. He was full of energy, scampering clumsily across the tile floor, and he yawned all the time. So we named him Ianni.

Since that day, he’s been our constant companion. We all grew up in the new house together – Ianni from a young pup to content dog, us kids from teenagers to self-sufficient adults, and Mom and Dad finally starting to enjoy the fruits of years of hard work with a house built just for them. When my brothers and I headed off to college and beyond, we’d come home during breaks and holidays and Ianni would always be the first to greet us at the door, tail wagging furiously. During the day, he would occasionally patrol the property’s expansive six acres, or sun himself on the deck or driveway. He’d be the last thing we saw before we headed upstairs to bed.

ianni 008As the years went by, he seemed to stay the same spirited, even-tempered dog. We had a familiar play ritual involving the long hallway between the kitchen and the side door. When I picked up one of his toys – usually his bouncy orange dumbbell toy – he would immediately tense and perk up his ears. Winding up my arm, he’d steel his body, and as I threw the toy he would launch himself after it at full speed. Nevermind that the hallway, though long, went only about 25 feet before it ended in a wall. Ianni would sprint after the toy, and as it hit the wall and bounced back, he’d scrabble for a split second before also hitting the wall. On the rebound, he’d snatch up the toy and regain his footing in one movement and sprint back to me for another go. I know this behavior was not unique to Ianni, but it still always impressed me how undaunted he was in the face of that wall. When I was home over the winter holidays eight months ago, he was still playing this game like a dog half his age.

Maybe that’s why it seems so strange that he should be gone. Despite the fact that he was going on 13 (91 in dog years!), Ianni had no signs of arthritis or illness and seemed by all accounts healthy and vibrant, going out for daily walks, throwing his body around in pursuit of toys, and, apparently, chasing after girl dogs way too young for him. But there are silent killers as well as visible ones, and this time there was essentially no indication anything was wrong until it was too late. He passed away the same morning that my parents found him in pain.

ianni5That morning two weeks ago when I heard the news, I experienced a torrent of emotions. I felt the loss of knowing I would never see him again, or pet him again, or sit with him on the step again. I was upset that I wasn’t able to be there with him when he passed and despondent over how much pain it sounded like he’d been in the last hours of his life. I wish I could have comforted him and let him know that we loved him. I wish we could have known sooner about the cancer that took him from us so suddenly, and maybe done something about it. I wish he could have held on for just another two weeks until I visited, though I knew it would probably not have made me feel any better.

Last Sunday when I came home, I opened the door to find not an overjoyed dog, but an empty space. There were no excited barks as I reached for the doorknob, there was no tail wagging or flurry of ear ruffling. No more pitter patter of paws. Although the pain is a little more muted now and I knew Ianni would no longer be there, it was hard to be back in a home I’ve never known without him. His bed and crate and bowls were still in the laundry room, his leash was still hanging by the door. His bouncy orange dumbbell toy was lying in hallway. Heck, there was even a little pile of poop still in the grass near the driveway. Little things like these made it all the more surreal.

It seemed that we had only just realized how little time Ianni had left and he was already gone. A few months ago we half-joked about whether or not to buy a new collar. Maybe humor was the only way to cope with what had suddenly struck all of us: Ianni was old. But still, he seemed unchanged, and so we were lulled into optimism. When I came home, on the counter were two unopened boxes of specially formulated “senior” dog biscuits, which my mom had bought recently for the first time. “It’s never too late,” she probably thought. The irony struck me heavily, cruel and profound.

Yet I’m thankful that when I was home last winter, I spent ten minutes my last night before I went to bed sitting quietly with Ianni in his room as he settled down to sleep. I don’t think he thought anything of it, but in the back of my mind I knew that I might not get the chance to spend time with him again.

If I could, I would have told him just one more time,

“Good dog.”


Things shouldn’t be so hard by Kay Ryan

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops,
a certain space—
however small—
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.


7 Responses to Ianni, 1996 – 2009

  1. MTB says:

    Oh, Shirley… I’m so sorry. You know, Ianni was always my favorite dog. He would constantly bark at me (he seemed to think that was his duty), but he always was cheerful about it and more than willing to play/wrestle with me between barks.

    Miss you.

  2. Chris Lasher says:

    Sorry for your family’s loss, Shirley.

  3. boogi says:

    Sorry to hear that, shwu-san. :(

  4. Kev says:

    I never realized how Ianni came to be called Ianni, especially seeing as how he’d always be so animated and in the mood to play when we’d come over. Ianni will definitely be missed.

  5. shwu says:

    Thanks, everyone. It helps to know how well-loved he was.

  6. nsaunders says:

    I knew this was going to be sad from the FriendFeed title! Know how you feel. Our family dog died when I was living away from home, doing my Ph.D. I still remember the last time I patted her, knowing I wouldn’t see her again. And I’ve not wept so much before or since as the day I got the news that she was gone. I’m welling up now just thinking about it and it was 13 years ago! In time you’ll be able to remember the happiness that he brought, without too much sadness.

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